“The result of the budget shortfall of $274,358 is that the [library board] had to select between two options,” Lautzenheiser said. “We could continue to run all five libraries until funding is exhausted, which would occur in March or April of 2015, or close one branch and operate the remaining four branches for the full fiscal year.”
She said after a meeting with county Chairman Tommy Smith and Commissioner Gary Barham examining the funding situation, the commission voted about a week ago to develop criteria to select a branch for closing.
Smith said the county has continuously contributed to the library system, but the allocation had to be cut from $1.7 million to $1.5 million in 2012 and remains at that level.
“The economy overall is still hurting, so the county is doing good to stabilize a $1.5 million contribution to the library system and, at this moment, that is the budget approved by the board [of commissioners],” he said.
Lautzenheiser said while library personnel understand that county budgets are being cut and all departments were taking austerity measures, mandatory state health care contribution increases would require $1.75 million to maintain current services.
On top of that, previous budget cuts put the system in a “dire situation,” she said.
“In an effort to stay open and withstand prior cuts, the library exhausted available funds,” Lautzenheiser said. “As Commissioner Gary Barham stated at a meeting on June 2, ‘The library is in emergency status,’ and in order to keep any library service in the county available for the duration of the year, one of the branches will close.”
Ideally, Lautzenheiser said, a requested $2.1 million to restore full library service to the county would be fulfilled.
“This is $624,358 more than the current budget allotment and this amount would allow libraries to be open another day and eliminate the 52 furlough days that all locally paid full-time staff has had to withstand,” she said. “Falling short of the goal of full library service, we would like to, at the very least, maintain our current level of service.”
Lautzenheiser and Smith agreed the library system is an important part of the county. “The library is a valuable contribution to the quality of life that we enjoy here,” Lautzenheiser said. “We support the academic achievement of students, provide free access to technology and free instruction, support economic development through a variety of channels and we support local community efforts through participation in and support of social and cultural initiatives.”
Smith said the issue may be revisited in November if the economy “picks up as it is projected to in the fourth quarter of the year.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Statistics and community analysis will be to be done in the near future to determine which community – Cochran, Fairview, Hampton, Locust Grove or McDonough – will lose its library.